Tag Archives: Happiness At Work

Too many Chiefs, and no Indians: the case for a Junior Happiness Officer

The hype has been around for around ten years or so. And if you’re working for an American firm, there’s a decent chance it has hit your company too. I am talking about assigning the title of ‘Chief Happiness Officer’.

It’s more and more common, especially for US-based companies, to rename their leading HR person’s title to Chief Happiness Officer or CHO.

By itself, it’s not a bad thing. If it truly leads to lasting attention for employees’ happiness at work, I do believe it has added value. However, I have a small hunch that in most cases it’s either window-dressing or goofing around.

Google’s former Chief Happiness Officer, is my impression, is a case of goofing around. Their former CHO Chade-Meng Tan formally had a job title ‘Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny)’. While he’s not the only one in tech with a ridiculous job title, his one seems to be one of the most extreme ones. As far as his blog is indicative, his job consisted more of taking pictures with visiting celebrities than of working on staff well-being.

Why are there no Junior Happiness Officers?

Many others seems window-dressing. As the phrase goes, maybe the happiness officer area is a paramount example of ‘too many chiefs, and no Indians’. A quick online search shows there are around 380,000 references to Chief Happiness Officer. For Junior Happiness Officer, there are around 250,000, and many of them are Junior Customer Happiness Officers. So it seems where Chiefs are playing around with employees, the Juniors are taking care of clients while (ab)using happiness as part of corporate branding.

I’ve asked Alex Kjerulf – a happiness at work consultant who goes by the title CHO – why this is the case. The question sparked the following exchange:


 

 

His answers stem me more mildly. Indeed, if there is an HR team with a  consistent focus on employees’ well-being, it is not the title that matters. What is really important is the creation of a culture where employees get feedback, have a path to development, and are given a healthy dose of freedom in organising their work. All these things are fairly obvious, but still important, and they could be forgotten in the day to day reality of getting work done.

For the time being, I’ll consider asking my boss if I can get a Junior Happiness Officer title. I might be the only one around.

Happiness… at work!

Is happiness at work a contradiction in terms?

Last month, I had the opportunity to discuss this question with a group of smart and inspiring members of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. I gave them a workshop about happiness at work.

It’s a pity I had to focus on my own parts in leading the workshop so much that I didn’t make detailed notes about their questions and comments. They made me realise how many people are struggling to determine what a good workplace is for them – and if they aren’t better off elsewhere. But I also found out that virtually everybody is able to point at something they love about their work.

I remember the inspiring answers I got when asking what made my guests happy at their work place. Answers included:

  • Working together with great colleagues and friends (by far the most common answer!)
  • Having a purpose or meaning
  • Doing something in a field I am passionate about
  • Developing and using skills that I want to work on
  • Making a difference day-to-day
  • Using my creativity
  • Being independent

My own answer to the question? Moments of flow!

Are you interested to invite me for a speech or workshop on happiness at work or another topic related to happiness? Just get in touch at jasper [at] forastateofhappiness.com.

You can access the presentation here:

If urgent, be patient

A couple of years ago, a blog post about life and happiness went viral. It was written by a nurse named Bronnie Ware in New South Wales, Australia. As a nurse, she took care of people with terminal diseases, washing them, feeding them, talking to them. Her work is hard, her days are long. She is the care-taker of people who are about to die. The proximity of their death helps people to reflect and find wisdom. And listening to terminal ill people taught Bronnie a lot about life. She wrote down what she learnt in a blog post.

Five regrets of the dying

It was called: ‘five regrets of the dying’. And the five regrets went like this:

  • I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others wanted
  • I wish I had the courage to express my feelings
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier
  • And I wish I hadn’t worked so much.

The last regret, coming at such a moment of life when the latest seconds are ticking away, I believe, is one of the most important pieces of wisdom about life and happiness. In short, it goes into one of the fundamental complexities many people are facing: to find work-life balance.

If urgent, please text

New technologies ubiquitous in the 21st century make it even more challenging to find the right balance between work and family or private life. With smartphones and 4G, we can be be in touch with friends or colleagues from the supermarket, queuing for a French fries, or the toilet. I liked to joke that if phone were waterproof, technology would invade the last place where we are free with our thoughts. But apparently – and scarily – there are already at least 13 waterproof phones!

In some working environments – such as consulting, where I spent my working days – it is a natural facet of a service attitude that comes with the job to be available to clients and colleagues outside working hours. Sometimes, with a good dose of exaggeration and self-pity, we joke that we don’t have a problem with work-life balance, because work takes priority anyway. And when we are not available, for a meeting, a conference, or a day off, we typically inform colleagues. Usually, my message goes something like: if you have an urgent question, please send a text. Or in short: if urgent, please text.

Finding the right balance

Striking the right balance is hard. Some of the consequence of an incorrect balance are small: you may come home too late to go to the supermarket, end up tired on the couch for a night, or fail to make plans for the weekend. But some of the potential consequences are a lot more significant. Around 22% of workers experiences extreme stress. 4 out of 10 workers in the US go beyond 50 hours. And burnouts risk to lead to a depression, which is suffered by about one out of six people during their life time. Beyond that, an unhealthy family life is related to marital stress and behavioural problems of children.

The boss can help…

Companies increasingly recognise the problem, either out of the goodness of their heart or because of the realisation of negative impact on staff turnover, sick leave, and productivity. There are many things bosses can do and are doing to increase work-life balance and happiness at work. They can allow part-time working, or flexible working hours, or limit working hours. They can ensure child-care facilities.

Something that would be useful for me as an individual, but arguably difficult for my sector is setting limits when you can access emails. In Germany, Labour Ministry guidelines prescribe that the ministry’s hierarchy cannot call their subordinates after working hours. And Volkswagen has installed a system that makes that people can’t send or receive emails half an hour after working time.

… but ultimately it’s up to ourselves to balance work and life

But as I already hinted before, work-life balance is a personal issue, and comes a lot with your personal attitude about work. The key points are:

  • be honest to yourself. A career is a choice. Some choices are incompatible with a healthy family life. A challenging job where you need to work very long hours or to travel all the time makes it difficult to balance a private life
  • manage your time. Sometimes there are key deadlines to meet, and work requires to stay a bit longer. But in many cases, the decision to leave a bit earlier or to stick around a bit is up to you. In quiet times – as July should be – there is space to take it a bit easier without affecting quality.

Some of these attitude can be changed. As I said, my habit is to inform my colleagues: “if urgent, please text”. A couple of weeks ago, shockingly, I had to go somewhere where I couldn’t bring my phone. So instead I wrote: if urgent be patient.

That’s what I strive for – to keep patience and calm even facing urgencies. Because I realise that in a couple of years time, I don’t want to wake up and realise I am turning into one of these people who in front of the eyes of death tell those around them: I wish I hadn’t worked so much.

If urgent, be patient.

Who’s responsible for your work-life balance? You!

Many of us in the work force are facing the same challenge: how to balance our working life with our private life.

In many  organisations, work gives great opportunities for personal development. In well-managed organisations, team members can pool their skills and jointly create a meaningful project. And that is often exactly what skilled creatives in the 21st century are looking for. But whether it is due to demanding bosses or through inherent perfectionism of the employee, the risk that work takes too much time out of a weekday is very present.

Few people live in Denmark, where the working culture seems to allow a good balance between work and private life. At least in the Brussels labour market that I am most familiar with, a strong working ethic is very common. Checking emails in the evening or already during the metro ride home? Responding a colleague during the holidays? Planning Monday’s to-do-list during the weekend? I think it occurs to most people I work with.

On a day that I got up in the early morning to start working, I stumbled on a TEDx talk on work-life balance by a fellow called Nigel Marsh. In his talk, he describes his ideal working day:

Wake up well-rested. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have breakfast with my wife and kids. Have sex again. Drive the kids to school. Do three hours of work. Meet in a mate to do sports in the park during lunch break. Do three more hours of work. Meet some mates for a drink. Drive home for dinner with my wife and kids. Meditate for half an hour. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have sex again. Go to sleep.

I fear that most work organisations are not fully compatible with this working ethic…

But the lessons from Nigel are serious. There are at least two important points in his talk. Firstly, certain career choices are incompatible with a meaningful family life. This is often forgotten or neglected, but it is absolutely true. In the Netherlands, there are some examples from politicians that have taken a step back to spend more time with their family. Mostly, they receive cynical reactions doubting their chances for survival. But it’s obvious: if your job requires you to always be on the job or to travel a lot, this will certainly affect your social and family life. Not everybody wants to make such a sacrifice.

But even outside these extreme cases, he makes another very important point. In the end, it is nobody but you who is responsible for your own work-life balance. Your boss ideally facilitates your happiness at work. Creches and paternity leave, a personal working culture or secondary benefits will all make you help to feel more at ease with your job. Still, your hours also matter. In the short term, your boss decides about your hours and when there is a need for overtime. But in the long term, there is only one person who decides how much and when you work: you!

The Happy Danes: why are Danes so damn happy?

Something is special in the state of Denmark. Believe it or not, but despite associations with the grey weather, not-so-outgoing personalities, and general boredom, Denmark tops the ranking in many international happiness surveys. Denmark is the happiest country according the World Happiness Reports of 2012 and 2013, the European Social Survey of 2008, and the Eurobarometer of 2012.

What is so special about Denmark? Why are Danes so damn happy?

The Happiness Research Institute, or Institut for Lykkeforskning as it sounds in Danish, was founded a couple of years ago just to answer that question. And the answer is simply that Denmark is good in almost everything that is related to happiness. In the words of John Helliwell (Author of the World Happiness Report, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Happiness, if there had been one):

Broadly speaking, Denmark ranks highly in all factors that support happiness

The factors behind Danes’ high happiness

What is behind this happiness? According to the Happiness Research Institute’s study on The Happy Danes, there are eight factors that contribute to Danes’ high happiness levels:

  1. Trust. People tend to trust each other – this even comes in crazy forms: I’ve been told that in Denmark it’s completely normal to leave your baby stroller (baby included) outside the supermarket during groceries or at a bar when you get a coffee.
  2. Security. The welfare state helps. Even if you’re poor, or unemployed for a time, the state takes care of you. Comparatively, Danish poor have a high level of well-being.
  3. Wealth. High prosperity helps!
  4. Freedom. And personal freedom, too.
  5. Work. And on top of that, a healthy relationship to work! High levels of autonomy and job quality – that makes happiness at work?
  6. Democracy. Election turnout of over 80% – and voting is not mandatory!
  7. Civil society. Beyond a high degree of voluntary jobs, Danes also socialise more than average.
  8. Balance. A balance between work and leisure.

All in isolation, none of these factors are very special. There are countries that offer social security, that have a strong democratic culture, or where people have a good work-leisure balance. The special thing about Denmark, though, is that all these factor appear together. What is the secret?

measure-happiness-1

Image via How Stuff Works

Social security, but no happiness policy

I asked Meik Wiking, the Director of the Institute and the lead editor of The Happy Danes, whether there is an overall policy framework dedicated to the pursuit of happiness in Denmark, or whether it is just the consequence of high quality policies in the individual areas mentioned. Wiking answers:

Currently, there is no overall happiness framework (…) However, I do think that the Danish welfare state has been good at having citizen-centered policies and focusing on reducing UN-happiness: ensuring basic income, access to health care, education etc.

As the report explains, social security has contributed to the fact that the gap in happiness between rich and poor in Denmark is a lot smaller then, for instance, in the US.

Trust

Trust is the first factor that the Institute identified as contributing to happiness. That begs the question why trust is so high. Wiking points at the low level of corruption and the small size of Danish society:

One element is of course the low level of corruption. We experience that we can have trust in our system and in our society. We are treated equally and fairly according to the law. Also, I believe that the equality and the smallness of our society reduces the incentive for cheating. We all have more or less the same – and in a small society (where everybody knows each other) the penalty for cheating is higher. I know this is all very banal, but it is the best explanation I can see.

The positive emotions paradox

Danes don’t have a reputation for being the most cheerful people. And indeed, they score lower on ‘positive affect’ (or short term, intense, positive emotions) then for instance some Mediterranean or Latin American countries. But the scores are higher for overall quality of life, where happiness measurements are based on longer term and more evaluative judgements about life as a whole. Isn’t this paradoxical?

I do believe we should strive for having high levels on both the evaluative and the affective dimension in every country. Life is made up of moments and the two dimensions are linked. However, I am not sure we should call it a paradox that one country scores low in one and high in another. I think it is just evidence that we need a more nuanced language – and understanding – to be able to talk about, study and improve quality of life.

Thus, Danes are a happy people, even though positive emotions are lower than in some other countries. In the end, it simply means that there is a lot more to know about happiness. Even in Denmark, the Happiness Research Institute won’t be out of work.

Kartofler

One example of Danish trust: unmanned stands with potatoes, where you can take them freely and supposed to leave the money behind. Image courtesy of Happiness Research Institute

Juggling yellow stress balls – my message to the Foro Bienestar conference

What serious message can a tiny, bright yellow, stress ball with a smiley convey?

Last week I shared a couple of lessons I learnt from other speakers at the well-being and development conference in Guadalajara. Today, I wanted to tell you about the points of my own presentation.

Juggling a yellow stress ball

The panel I was on had the title ‘what is the role of governments in happiness of the people? I used this little yellow ball to illustrate my message. I realised that many participants were triggered by these little balls in their welcome pack. Some people took pictures of them, holding them in front of their face or their bag and tweeted them. Probably, others just left them in a corner or threw them away. And myself, I decided to juggle with them at the beginning of my speech.

Is there a message in (very poorly!) juggling with stress balls?

I argued there was. My point was simply: everybody will use tools you give them in a different way. You can bring a horse to the stream, but you can’t force it to drink. Sometimes a horse just wants to splash the water!

It’s the same with public policies: as a government you can design policies that you hope make people happier, but you can’t control how they will react. Still, I think there is large responsibility for governments to create the underlying conditions in which citizens can strive. Long-term well-being and quality of life combine subjective elements (our emotions, how we react to circumstances) and objective elements (the  environment we live in). This environment is partly shaped by governments’ economic, environmental and social policies. If good or bad choices are made, that will ultimately influence the quality of our lives.

In the speech, I tried to give my own ‘little stress balls’, or methods to enhance quality of life. I made three suggestions to the policy makers in the room:

Integrated measurements of well-being

Firstly, I advised them to carefully measure the well-being in their jurisdiction. Well-being indicators from all areas – economy, environment, social affairs, health, education, and others – should be measured together, rather than in isolation. Now, in most countries, GDP is the main metric that is used in public policy. I argue that a dashboard of several indicators, such as in the OECD’s Better Life Index, is a good tool to have an additional layer of information. As such, policy makers can detect in which area improved policy outcomes can win the most in terms of quality of life. This can help them to focus their resources on the areas where they can make the biggest difference.

jb at forobienestarTreat well-being as a political agenda

Secondly, I suggested to treat well-being as a political agenda like any other. If the focus will be more on quality of life and well-being, and less on purely economic growth, that is a massive shift in policy! Administrations know that they have to communicate all their policies to citizens and engage in a public debate to explain the choices the made. This applies to well-being just the same as to other areas.

It starts with happiness at work

Thirdly, I advised to also look at the happiness at work of staff in the administration. Motivation and job satisfaction at an individual and team level massively affect the success that an administration will have in the implementation of it its policies. Surveys can be used to monitor and improve work satisfaction and working conditions of the staff responsible to deliver the well-being policy objectives set by politicians and policy makers. Only happy staff can create happy citizens.

Now it is to the administration of Jalisco to translate the lessons from me, and all other speakers, into new and better policies. To be continued!

(and next week, I’ll face one of the other questions debated on the conference: why are Mexicans so happy?)

yellow balls

Mojitos, Lego and Beyond: Work and Motivation

Is there more to work than a means to pay for your mojitos?

Post-modern times require us to have complex skills in order to do our jobs well. This also influences how we feel about work in general: it is not just about making a living but also a way of self-realisation and a potential source to bring flow, meaning and happiness to our lives. TED speakers Dan Ariely and Dan Pink share their thoughts with us on the question: what motivates us to work?

Work and motivation

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is a behavioural psychologist who is on his way to becoming a TED star. His talks on irrationality, loss aversion and dishonesty have been watched by millions. Two years ago, in 2012, he was a TEDxAmsterdam guest in De Stadsschouwburg.

This time, he chose a different topic: work and motivation. Ariely discards the simple theory that most people only work in order to spend their money on mojitos while sitting on a beach. Beyond mojitos, what motivates people to care about their jobs? According to Ariely, meaning and creation are the main motivators.

Meaning

Ariely tells us the story of one of his former students who used to work for an investment bank. For weeks and weeks he worked on a presentation for an important business deal. He worked overtime, did the research and put together a slick powerpoint presentation. He delivered a stellar job and received the well-earned appreciation by his boss he was looking for. Then, things changed: he learnt that the deal was off and that the presentation wouldn’t be used after all. This news was such a disappointment to him that it took away all of his motivation to work (even though his work was beyond his boss’s expectations). As a researcher, Ariely’s job is to translate similar anecdotes and theories into experiments. In this case, he came up with an experiment to test the effect of demotivation on performance. Being a Lego lover, he thought Lego robots would bring him closer to the answer.

Ariely paid two groups of research subjects to build bionicles – a type of Lego robot. The standard condition comprised of presenting the robots built by the first group. But in the ‘Sisyphic condition’, the robots were destroyed in the presence of the subjects just after they finished building them. The result: any motivation to build the robots was crushed. Even those who stated they loved Lego, actually built very few of them.

The IKEA effect

It is not surprising that meaning and purpose are an important part of our motivation at work. Creating something that is yours is another source of motivation. Or in Ariely’s words: the IKEA effect. If you spend a number of hours assembling your own IKEA furniture, it’s very likely that you will be more attached to it: labour leads to appreciation. Children are another example. You may experience other people’s children as horrible creatures. But when they’re yours, you have already invested so much time and energy that they have become valuable to you. Ariely informs us that this effect has also been studied in experiments involving origami figures made by the subjects themselves.

Dan Pink

Autonomy, mastery and purpose

Career analyst Dan Pink has formulated his own answer to the question of motivation. He argues that in the current business climate, staff management is no longer suitable for the 21st century employee. Our jobs today require a specific set of skills. We do not live in a time anymore where a task is simply being executed as ordered. As the content of our jobs has changed over time, our management has to change, too.

Engagement can be reached with the help of three factors, says Pink: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We have the urge to be the director of our own lives, both in our private lives as well as in our jobs. We want to become increasingly better at what we do and we yearn to be part of something more meaningful, something larger than ourselves.

Thus, Dan Pink argues, our working cultures should be redesigned. We should build more (software) companies like Atlassian, where people have ‘Fedex days’, giving them 24 hour to solve a problem posed by themselves. Or, we should learn from radical reformers like Google, where engineers can spend 20% of their working time on projects they believe are important. Or we can work via the ‘ROWE’ (Results Only Work Environment) eliminating fixed working hours and meetings.

Challenge is what drives motivation. And companies can do so much more to create that challenge.

This article was first published on the blog of TEDxAmsterdam, as part of my series ‘TED & Happiness’. In this series, I explore some of the about fifty talks on happiness in TED’s library.

With great thanks to Tori Egherman for editing.

Happiness at work (II) – for your boss

Last week I spoke about happiness and the benefits it has for you. We aspire for happiness in so many areas of our life – family, friends, love, our sport of passion – but often work and happiness are seen as incompatible. I hope that my piece may have challenged some of your ideas.

Since the emergence of their discipline, organizational psychologists have spent decades to research the link between job satisfaction (or happiness at work) and job performance. Though initial research suggested a surprisingly weak correlation, more recent studies found a solid link, especially for jobs with more complex tasks: the happier you are, the better you perform.

There is no such thing as a free lunch

Many companies are also seeing to start that happiness policies are a worthwhile goal to pursue for them. They may offer free lunch, flexible working hours or other benefits to reward staff and show their appreciation. But the saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch also applies here: they have clear benefits for the employer.

As I mentioned last week, shoe retailer Zappos had made the happiness of their employees and customers a key priority, with great success. But there are other examples, like software firm Atlassian, where engineers have creation days to solve problems together in a team. Or places like Google or Facebook, where working conditions are shaped to allow for autonomy and creativity and are part of the mix to keep talent in.

Happier employee, a better company

Happiness at work is correlated with higher staff retention, less sick days, less accidents on the work floor, and better productivity and customer satisfaction. All good, one would say: happiness at work is good for individual employees and for their bosses and HR departments.

From the perspective of management, however, the argument might be different. Subscribing to the notion of neoliberal economist Milton Friedman, one could argue that policies to raise the happiness of employees are pursued at the detriment of the shareholder, and that it means that simply too much is being spent on employees.

Happiness, a good business case

Finance professor Alex Edmans had though that Friedman-adepts would be wrong. In a paper, he analysed the relation between happiness at work and subsequent profits on stock exchanges. (I can’t cover all methodological details here, but he measures happiness at work by a proxy: inclusion on the “Best Companies to Work” list. His research concluded that after companies reached high levels of happiness at work, their future (longer-term) stock market profits are about 2.3%-3.8% higher than other firms. Whatever Friedman thinks, happiness at work is a good business case.

But in the end, happiness at work is not for the shareholder. It is for the employee – each of us. I absolutely believe that there are ways for us to make ourselves happier in our jobs. A large part of our appreciation depends on motivation and perception. In many organisations, there is some degree of autonomy, and some possibilities to steer a position in a certain direction.

Happiness advice

If that fails, you might have another way to reduce boredom and stimulate inspiration. Try to convince your boss to hire happiness advisors like Nic Marks. Marks, of Happiness Works, thinks that happiness is a serious business: if happiness is associated with so many positive outcomes, employers would be stupid not to invest in it. A happier employee is a happier employee, which is great in itself, but also a better company. Happiness at work is not rocket science. It starts with asking people what makes them happy, what frustrates them, what keeps them going. And when you do that for your team, you can strengthen the positive points and tackle the weak ones – in the same way as a good manager would do with any problem in the office.

Happiness at work (I) – for you!

100,000 hours. 6,000,000 minutes. 360,000,000 seconds. That is roughly the time of our life that we spend at work. And research shows, that work is one of the places where we are least happy: only commuting is worse. And people prefer to be in company of others (friends, relatives, customers) over being alone, with only one exception: people are rather alone, than with their boss.

But should it really be like this? What if we were happy for all those 100,000 hours?

Today and next week, I would like to talk about happiness at work. Today, I’ll talk about your personal happiness at the work floor. And next week, I’ll speak about the implications of higher happiness levels for companies.

A potential source of happiness

Image:  Happyologist

Image: Happyologist

Not many people think of work as a potential source of happiness. In this conception, work and private life are two closely separated areas. In our private life, we go for drinks with friends, lay as couch potatoes watching TV and travel to Southern France. Our job is separate part of our lives, where we earn the money needed to pays those drinks, couches and TVs, and trips.

But a stimulating job can be a source of flow, of pride, and of happiness. Recently, more and more companies are taking up the challenge. One of the inspirations was American shoe retailer Zappos. For Zappos, happiness is a part of the firm identity. Founder Tony Hsieh wanted to be the retailer with the highest customer satisfaction. To do so, he believed he had to reach a high level of job satisfaction for his employees. That means many fun events and freedom on the job, and HR policies that are shaped by a Chief Happiness Officer. You can find it cheesy, but it seems that it works.

A happy employee is a happy partner

What you are experiencing at work, doesn’t only matter those eight (or nine) hours behind you desk. People typically take their emotional state from work home. A study found a link between work engagement and vigor of an employee at the end of their working day and their happiness level before going to sleep. And not only their own happiness: the effect even crossed over to their partner. The happier an employee, the higher the happiness level of their partner on the same day!

How can I increase my happiness?

You might be wondering: how can I increase my happiness at work? Honestly: I don’t know. You are the only master of your happiness. You might have some intuitive ideas how you could find happiness in the work place. That’s probably where I would start. But let me give you a hint where the answer could be.

During my Commission traineeship almost three years ago, I had a time when I was wondering about my career: where would I end up? What would I do? How would I know it would be right place for me? At one of the career-building events, the speaker referred to a TED speaker Dan Pink. His case is that as industrial times are over, post-modern jobs require a new set of skills. Creativity and flexibility become a lot more important than those during the time a worker followed orders and worked along an assembly line.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose

In this new era, what motivates us to work? Three factors, argues Dan Pink: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy: freedom in how tackle your challenges. Mastery: getting better and better. Purpose: doing something with a bigger meaning. I think he is right. And when I contemplate my job, and others I would be willing to do, I ask myself whether they do provide these aspects. When searching for happiness at work, aim to find a place that offers you autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

 

Shawn Achor and the happiness advantage

This post was first published on the blog of TEDxAmsterdam. TED’s library contains about fifty talks on happiness. After the post about the flow of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this is the second article in my series of articles under the title TED & Happiness. In this talk, I want to introduce Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and happiness researcher. His message is simple: happiness works. With humor and self-mockery, he reveals how our mental well-being is linked to a positive outlook on life.

A positive outlook

Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor, source: Good Think inc.

Shawn Achor begins his twelve minute happy rollercoaster ride with a simple anecdote illustrating how fundamental optimism is for our happiness. Seven-year-old Shawn was a reckless little boy. Playing war, he happened to throw his five-year-old sister Amy from her bed. Tears began to fill her eyes. But he managed to turn the situation around with: “Amy, you landed on all fours. That means… you must be a unicorn!” he said, keeping her calm and avoiding being punished by his parents.

The mechanism is simple, but it works! Changing our lens changes our happiness. Positive psychologists have shown that the way we experience our lives is a factor that explains some of the variation in our happiness (a scientifically important nuance – it does not directly predict our happiness,  though some people, even scholars, believe that optimism always creates happiness). And a happy, positive outlook in turn has a ripple effect, making experiences of life more pleasant: the happiness advantage, as Achor calls it.

See his short pitch of the idea in this video.

Reverse the formula for happiness

Nowadays, our assumption simply is that we need to do. If we do things well, we are successful. And when we become successful, we should be happy. But there is a problem: we are never satisfied. When we reach the finish line, we move the goalposts of success, and start all over again.

Let’s take a look at an example. When we graduate, what we want is a job. When we have a job, we want a better salary. Then we want more responsibility, etc. When we have achieved a goal, we repeat this cycle and look at the next goal, thus continuously pushing success towards a horizon we can never reach.

Achor asks us to reverse the formula. What if we reach success when we are happy? What if we work well, because we are happy? And what if it is happiness that inspires productivity instead of the other way around?

The happiness advantage: accomplishment & gratitude

Happiness starts with simple things. A feeling of accomplishment. Learning, creativity and developments. But above all: gratitude with the achievements of every little day.

Achor has a simple recipe for that. Spend two minutes a day for three weeks thinking about optimism and success. Everyday, write down three new things you are grateful for. If you do that for three weeks, it will have a lasting effect.

That’s the happiness advantage.

Thanks to Tori Egherman for editing.

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